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Recursive Translation

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Nefarius Purpus: [in pain] ☠@╳ㆯ
Hemispheric: [in Proto-Germanic] What did the centurion say?
Interpreter: [in Proto-Germanic] He said "☠@╳ㆯ."
Nefarius Purpus: [in Latin] What did you say to him?
Interpreter: "☠@╳ㆯ"

When something is translated to another language, and then translated back to its native language (sometimes with further translations in between).

There is, actally, a legitimate use of this function if one is doing a translation (to a language they don't know) using software, to see if the meaning is the same when translated back. If it is the same or reasonably similar, then one can have a high degree of confidence the translation is correct. Sometimes it is done either by using multiple translators, like Google Translate and Bing Translate, or have each translate back the other's original translation. Sometimes the differences between the two translations can be stunning, and the results can range from amazing (for perfectly correct) to hilarious (for really bad ones.)

Even when this isn't a "Blind Idiot" Translation, it will still (often) lose something when translated back. Or maybe gain something.

This often happens with bootleg movies from other countries (although it's a mystery why they didn't just use the original language track). A big cause of Translation Train Wreck.

Free online computer translators do this a lot, especially Babelfish, which quickly went memetic for its ability to produce hilariously mangled results in this manner. Amplified by the fact that even a one-way machine translation will invariably produce stilted grammar and have difficulty with homonyms.

This can also happen with running phrases through an automated translator and back again, which is a popular internet game, and a way to invoke Intentional Engrish for Funny. See Translate the Loanwords, Too for when this happens because a translated work includes foreign words.

Compare Either "World Domination", or Something About Bananas, which is translating something to your own language and coming up with two possible results: one which makes sense and one which doesn't.

Want some fun trying this out? For a single language, there's this site (it uses Bing).

Compare Recursive Import.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Bleach, the term Shinigami was translated as "soul reaper" in America. Tite Kubo himself said that this is actually a much more applicable term, and it is actually what is used now. Though it does ruin one character's pun about "gods of death" upon defeating a villain who claimed to be a god.
  • The Japanese DVD releases for the first three Pokémon movies contain the English dub, including a subtitle track that translates the English version into Japanese.
  • The Sailor Moon manga quotes two poems by William Blake and William Butler Yeats. The translators for the Tokyo Pop/Mixx version didn't recognize either of the two poems, and translated the Japanese translations into English.
  • Digimon Adventure 02 made use of the series' English dub terminology twice during the World Tour arc.
    • The English translation of "Chosen Children" is "DigiDestined"; in the Japanese version, when Australian Chosen Child Dingo appears, he introduces himself in English as "the DigiDestiny Dingo of Australia." (Hey, they were close.) Izzy is later shown using "Digidestined" when he sends out an English email by Digimon Adventure tri..
    • The English version replaced "evolution" with "Digivolution". In the Japanese version, Mexican Chosen Child Chichos speaks only Spanish, and true to both the English and Spanish dubs, her Digimon evolves with the phrase "Digievolución".
  • One chapter of Godchild quoted the first verse of The Raven, but the translator must not have realised it was originally written in English, because they appeared to have translated it directly from the Japanese, giving us this:
    ''Once upon a dreary eve
    At midnight when all hopes and dreams had been lost
    I, who had been possessed by an apparition, spied a stately raven happen by overhead
    And with dreaming eyes quoth the raven
    "That which is lost shall never return."
  • Batman:
    • Lord Death Man's clunky name is a result of this trope involving one strange interpretation of the word shinigami. The character Death-Man became 死神男 (literally "Death-God Man") in the manga, which the English translation rendered as "Lord Death Man." Similarly, the obscure American character "Dr. No-Face" became "Dr. Faceless" in the English manga translation.
    • This also applied to story titles. For example, the original Batman comics featured a story titled "The Man Who Quit the Human Race." The English translation of the manga adaptation became "The Man Who Quit Being Human."
  • The Netflix translator for Neon Genesis Evangelion is controversial for many reasons, but relevantly to this trope, the English scriptwriter apparently missed a reference to Robert Browning's Pippa Passes and translated the famous "All's right with the world" line literally as "All is very good"—despite the actual quote still appearing in NERV's logo.
  • Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stardust Crusaders: Gray Fly writes the English word "Massacre" on the airplane wall in blood. The narrator helpfully explains what the word means... and his translation also happens in the English version, so you have the dub narrator explaining the definition of a word the English-speaking viewers should probably already know.
  • Spy X Family: In Chapter 60, Franky's door has a button labeled "Press Button for "Service" in English (the button is booby-trapped). There's a text box pointing at it, translating it for readers who don't understand English, but this is kept in the English version, despite the text on the door plate being clearly legible, presumably because redrawing the panel just for one language would take more effort than it's worth.
  • Studio Ghibli sometimes re-releases their films in Japan dubbed in English with Japanese subtitles. Other films aside from the ones listed below have had their English dubs released on DVD and Blu-ray, but they usually just use the Japanese script (making these reverse Dubtitle tracks). So far, the ones that have had Japanese subtitles for the English dubs are:
  • It's a bit puzzling for an English-dub viewer of Fate/stay night when, after shouting "Unlimited Blade Works", Archer goes on to tell Berserker that "As you can see, what you face are unlimited blades!" This is because the UBW chant is in English even in the original; Archer's followup line tells Japanese viewers what he meant. In English, he's just repeating himself!

    Comic Books 
  • An in-universe example that loses nothing but is hilarious anyway can be found in Asterix the Legionary. Obelix's usual denial about his weight has induced him to try on a too-small breastplate, that flies off and strikes centurion Nefarius Purpus in the face.
    Purpus: [in Latin, normal font] ☠@☩&!
    Hemispheric: [in Proto-Germanic, blackletter font] What did the centurion say?
    Interpreter: [in Proto-Germanic] He said *skull in a pickelhaube, squared-off spiral, swastika, Gothic-font ampersand*.
    Purpus: [in Latin] What did you say to him?
    Interpreter: "☠@☩&".

    Films — Animation 
  • An in-universe example (with nothing gained or lost) happens in Madagascar. The penguins can't read a label on their crate, so they ask two monkeys to do so. One monkey reads it in American Sign Language, then another says it out loud.
  • The French Blu-ray of the French film Ballerina includes French subtitles that do not match the original French audio, but are instead translated from the English dub. The weirdest part is that the Blu-ray does not even include an English-dubbed option.
  • Metegol was originally written in Spanish, and then dubbed to American English courtesy of The Weinstein Company. The American English dub was then translated back to Spanish and redubbed in Los Angeles for the US DVD release.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The above-pictured scene from a hilarious Chinese bootleg of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (rendered as Star War: The Third Gathers: The Backstroke of the West), which, when translated from English to Chinese and back to English again, rendered Darth Vader's Big "NO!" as "Do not want", a phrase that quickly became a meme for squick. In comparison to the same subtitles rendering "Jedi Council" as "Presbyterian Church" (via "congregation of elders"?), this is downright tame. Not to mention that "Padme" became "The Plum Of" in the subtitles at one point, and "Anakin Skywalker" became "Allah Gold", which seriously sounds like a Muslim credit card. Oh, it gets even better: The chancellor is D and the Presbyterian Church want to know him at fuck.
    • The reason for the "Do not want" situation is that the word for "no" ("bu" in Mandarin) in Chinese is rarely used on its own — it's much closer to "not," a negator adverb, and if it were used on its own in this situation, it wouldn't make sense syntactically and would need to used with a verb. Thus, they translated it as "bu yao", which means, "Do not want."
    • "Allah Gold" was likely an attempt to translate 阿拉金 (a la jin), a corruption of the official phonetic transcription of the name "Anakin": 安納金 (an na jin). The "West" in "Backstroke of the West" was probably another attempt to translate a phonetic transcription, in this case "Sith" (西斯, xi si). The first character 西 does indeed translate to "west".
    • C-3PO became "Blow the Skin", likewise as a corruption of official phonetic transcription of his name.
    • The bootleg's script eventually got picked up by a group of fans who created a Gag Dub of the whole movie.
  • A couple of The Lord of the Rings foreign subtitled examples:
  • This used to be the case for Metropolis, as the American cut was the most complete one remaining (and even that was only about ¾ of the original film). Fortunately, this was rectified with the rediscovery of the full text of the original German title cards in censorship records. They have since been retranslated into English and combined with recently rediscovered footage to create a more complete version of the film.
  • There's a Chinese bootleg of The Avengers, which has things like Loki proclaiming that "he does not like the thunder guy", and Hawkeye wanting "a bait and some eyeliner", among others.
  • A bootleg for Spider-Man 3 is full of this with its subtitles. Mary Jane saying "You're such a nerd" to Peter being translated as "You is really a papaya" and her line of "The applause wasn't very loud" becoming "I didn't see out at 1:00 can the applause be not that warm".
  • Due to the original Korean audio track being partially lost, the South Korean Kaiju film Yongary: Monster from the Deep in presented in the English dub with Korean subtitles in later releases in its native South Korea.

  • Uncle John's Bathroom Reader has an article called "Leave Ready Zagromyhat To Us!", which is all about this trope.
  • The book English As She Is Spoke. The author took a Portuguese-French phrasebook and a French-English dictionarynote  and produced his Portuguese-English phrasebook, which is incomprehensible to English speakers and is only read for comedy value.
    • I have mind to vomit.
      • "Do you miss anything?" (The result of translating "Don't get any on you" from English to Portuguese to French, then back to English).
    • "Is there anything in conventional English which could equal the vividness of 'To craunch a marmoset'?"
  • Pale Fire plays with and lampshades this, with protagonist Charles Kinbote translating back into English from a copy of Timon of Athens that has ostensibly been translated into Zemblan. As a result of lost fidelity, Kinbote can't figure out where John Shade lifted the title "Pale Fire" from for his poem.note  But then, translation's not the only thing that's recursive in this book.
  • Played with in a section of Frigyes Karinthy's "This Is How YOU Write", where he translates a philosophical poem by one of his contemporaries into German, then back to Hungarian, then repeating the process several times. The first recursive translation turns the poem into a skit featuring the Jews Ufer and Hertz. The second one yields an ad for Hertz Salami.
  • Even the great Jules Verne is not immune to this trope: for example, most English translations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea use the term "duck gun" instead of "Parrott Rifle", the former being any sort of fowling piece, the latter being a heavy naval cannon (named after its inventor, Robert Parker Parrott) commonly found aboard U.S. Navy ships of the day.
  • The Jorge Luis Borges story collection "A Universal History of Iniquity" consists of accounts of historical evildoers, and Borges quotes from nonfiction works, but in keeping with Borges' Mind Screw style, often alters details from the source text, sometimes in a seemingly arbitrary way. For instance, the chapter on Monk Eastman is to a significant extent Borges translating passages from Gangs of New York (the book) into Spanish (while also throwing in his own alterations). English translators then had to translate those passages back into English and decide how much Translation Correction they should do while still remaining faithful to Borges' aims.
  • The comedic use of this trope is Older Than Television, as upon discovering a French translation of his work The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Mark Twain translated it literally back into English, resulting in phrases like "I no see not that that frog has nothing of better than another."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Parodied in an episode of NewsRadio; Jimmy James notes that while his new autobiography, Jimmy James - Capitalist Lion Tamer, is selling poorly domestically, the Japanese version is doing extremely well. He decides to have it translated back into English, but finds himself at a loss when he hosts a reading, sight unseen, of the new Jimmy James - Macho Business Donkey Wrestler.
    "I had a small house of brokerage on Wall Street... many days no business come to my hut... my hut... but Jimmy has fear? A thousand times no. I never doubted myself for a minute for I knew that my monkey strong bowels were girded with strength like the loins of a dragon ribboned with fat and the opulence of buffalo... dung."
    "...Glorious sunset of my heart was fading. Soon the super karate monkey death car would park in my space. But Jimmy has fancy plans... and pants to match. The monkey clown horrible karate round and yummy like cute small baby chick would beat the donkey."
  • A Spicks and Specks game called "Turning Japanese" used this. The contestants had to guess the song lyrics after they'd been translated into Japanese and back. Guess what show's opening lyrics these are:
    If there is strange something
    At your neighborhood
    Whether who calling if
    Destructive person

    Incomprehensible something
    Of the illusion which has done and it is
    Whether who calling carefully
    The destructive person of the illusion which that it has gone does not see
  • Mentioned on QI, Fred MacAulay talks about how at a German Burns-Nicht supper, the Ode Tae a Haggis had been translated from Scots into German, then from German into English, where "Great Cheiften au the Puddin' Race" had become "Mighty Führer of the Sausage People".
  • Doctor Who gives us a rare in-universe example: Melody Pond, translated into the language of the Gamma Forest and back, becomes River Song. The people of the Gamma Forest don't have a word for pond, because the only water in the forest is the river. Ironically, this was all a coincidence, as we later see both names coming about separately thanks to a Stable Time LoopMelody was named after Amy's best friend, who later turns out to be Melody, while River only took that name after the Doctor called her that, and the only reason he did that was because that's how she originally introduced herself to him.

    Video Games 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • A well-known never-officially-released prototype which eventually became Knuckles Chaotix is a double example: the title on its title screen is Sonic Crackers, which was probably supposed to be "Clackers", after the noisemaking toy consisting of two balls tied together with string, just like the game's primary gimmick mechanic. Translating "clackers" from English to Japanese back to English resulted in swapping the L for an R. Its ROM header, meanwhile, calls the game Sonic Studium, which is clearly meant to be "Stadium", but the same process resulted in its vowel getting swapped.
    • Sonic Adventure 2 was written in America, but apparently got translated into Japanese and then back into English. The result? Narm. Lots of it. They didn't change the cutscenes to fit the different sentence structures (and length), causing lines to overlap. Not so bad when it's Sonic and Shadow yelling at each other, but sometimes the overlapping lines are spoken by the same character. There's also one scene where Dr. Robotnik is watching the news, and reacts about a second too early.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim had an in-universe one via the official guide. The name of the dragon "Mirmulnir" translates into English as "Allegiance Strong Hunt", but the guide liberally refers to him as "Loyal Mortal Hunter." If that were translated back into the dragon language, it would be "(something)-Joor-Ah." That dragon names most likely can't contain the word "joor," as they need to be a Shout, and dragons can't really understand mortality, and deep understanding of the words involved is the first step in using the Thu'um (the words also seem to need to make sense on their own. One word in a dragon's name can't just be a modifier for another word in the name).
  • Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake has a boss character named "Black Color" in the MSX version, whose name comes from a recursive translation of Blackcollar from English to Japanese and back to English. In later versions he was named Black Ninja.
  • The NES Ghostbusters video-game, with its infamous "Conglaturation" ending, was an English translation (or perhaps it was written in Engrish from the start) of a Japan-made NES port of the game, which existed on other supportsnote  first.
  • Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden takes the name of the real historical figure Crispus Attucks, puts it into Japanese katakana, and then back into English again to create the name of the game's Crystal Dragon Jesus Clispaeth Ryuji Attucks.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Bowser's original name, Koopa (クッパ), comes from the Japanese translation of gukbap (국밥), a Korean soup. However, Korean localizations of the series have used the name Kupa (쿠파).
    • Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door received an intentional butchering from the modder Fatguy703, who ran all the text through Google Translate until it became Book of Mario: Thousands of Doors, copyrighted by Nintendo and "Mentally Developed Systems in the Game" (in reality, the company Intelligent Systems). An edited playthrough of the madness can be found here. It also had its prequel, Book of Mario 64, translated this way as well.
  • The title of the Fire Emblem series was originally written in Gratuitous English, but Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War and Fire Emblem: Three Houses provide an alternate Japanese rendition, 炎の紋章 honoo no monshou. The English version of the latter game translates this back into English as "Crest of Flames."


    Web Original 
  • Someone managed to take the Hotel Mario intro, run it through Babelfish, and create entirely new words from the recursive translation. The word gidrovlicheskiy has become a popular word in the YouTube Poop community.
    Original: Dear pesky plumbers, the Koopalings and I have taken over the Mushroom Kingdom. The Princess is now a permanent guest in one of my seven Koopa hotels! I dare you to find them if you can!
    Babelfish: How much for the Gidrovlicheskiy, koopalings and the difficulty of beloveds verify or how much for the Shui Shui or the hat, it is controlled he himself if the coordinator. Then the ash for Oji mine hotelkoopa is the permanent proprietor or exactly presently. In the possibility of the serpent, this if or is not or 4 how much for the that one it is!
  • Pretty much the whole point of the website Translation Party. It translates phrases from Japanese back to English until it reaches equilibrium, or translates the same from Japanese to English.
  • Conlang fans participate in conlang relays to learn one another's languages.
  • In the Bad Translator, you can put any text, then it translates it back and forth from random languages up to 35 times, resulting in interesting Non-Sequiturs.
    • 35 Translations later, Bing gives us: "The text and the first game, Fellow, about language • bamboo 14 over 35. Guía llanura enjoy"
    • They managed to turn "I" into "And".
  • Someone took Rivers in the Desert (the battle theme for the Big Bad and one of the most deplorable Hate Sinks in the franchise), put it through about thirty languages, changed it back to English and got:
    Water for living, land. He is a leader with a sense of humor. A new beginning has stairs. Ghost. Survival of the world, belo of our country. New life. Fish.

    Web Videos 
  • With Google Translate Sings, YouTube artist Malinda Kathleen Reese has made an art out of taking popular songs, especially Disney songs, and using recursive Google Translate runs to render the songs incomprehensible, including:
    • "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan has such nonsensical bits like:
      • "You are a depressed banana I met" note 
      • "Mr. President, I want a man....from you." [cuts to Barack Obama appearing to look confused by the singer's request]
      • "Hi, I had to cut poverty in the school gymnasium"
      • "mysterious as the dark long of the shoes!"
    • "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" from Frozen is pretty much a downer song since it's about Anna trying to get Elsa to play with her and Elsa shutting her out, and also includes their parents dying at sea in a ship accident. But it becomes awfully hilarious when Google Translate is used on it. Most egregious is the fact that Anna's ambitions really get bigger and bigger the older she gets. First she asks, "Do you want to build a snow male?" in the first verse, "Would you like to build a Yeti?" in the second verse, and lastly, "Would you like to build a snowman corporation?"
      • Product Placement: "We only have each other" = "I'm lovin' it".
      • Even a masturbation innuendo is somehow created: "Elsa? Please, I know you're in there" = "Elsa? Please, I know you're in yourself...."
    • "Give Up," also known as "Let It Go Official Google Translate Version". Some of the lyrics sound very close to the original lyrics, like "I am the wind and the weather" ("I am one with the wind and sky"), but some make absolutely no sense, like "On the rise for radiation" ("And I'll rise like the break of dawn"), or "Let the storm rage on" becoming "Let us very angry!" Elsa also seems to respond to the translation, when "I don't care what they're going to say" turns into "You do not care what you're saying!" Funnily enough, the line "The cold never bothered me anyway" at the end of the song translates back perfectly.
    • The translation of Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea's "Problem" is notable for a line that sounds like Google Translate apologizing for its recursive translations being so hard to understand: "Literal hair, some overweight into my shoulder / I should make more sense, and I understand that". It's also interesting that Iggy's A Wild Rapper Appears! verse is completely different, but still has some semblance of a rhyme scheme at some points - "Now is the best / Likely you may request / I let you home page, you may be, then I learned the late my text".
    • Malinda has translated Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You." Highlights include:
      • "I don't care about the presents underneath the Christmas tree" = "I am a duck in the shade of a tree"
      • "All I want for Christmas is you, baby!" = "All I want for Christmas is your baby!" To recap, the line goes from her wanting to see her boyfriend for Christmas, to her wanting to steal her boyfriend's child for Christmas.note 
    • Malinda translates "I Just Can't Wait To Be King," er, "I Do Not Know a King," from The Lion King. Some of the highlights:
      • The Zazu singernote  acts confused and breaks character listening to Malinda's incomprehensible phrases
      • "Free to do it all my way" becomes "For me, everything is free"
      • In Zazu's solo, "I think it's time that you and I arranged a heart to heart" becomes "I think me and the time....*gasps* heart disease! *collapses to the floor*"
      • "Out of service, out of Africa, I wouldn't hang about" becomes "In on African clothing service, well I refuse to be!" This singer actually corpses as he says "African clothing service"
      • "Let every creature go for broke and sing" becomes "When each creature rent go broke"
      • "It's gonna be King Simba's finest fling" becomes "King Simba would be a great malfunction".
    • On the other hand, "Poor Unfortunate Souls" becomes "Spirit of Abysmal Despair", which would make for excellent Boss Subtitles.
    • "I came in like a wrecking ball!" = "I like the ball in the sink!"
    • More Frozen funnies, For the First Time in Forever:
      • "Don't know if I'm elated or gassy" becomes "I do not know if I'm high or sparkling wine". Judging by how she's singing, probably both.
      • "I wanna stuff some chocolate in my face" becomes "I like a little chocolate on your face", with Anna pressing a chocolate bar against Elsa's cheek and Elsa just looking slightly perturbed about it.
    • Her translation of "I Don't Care" by Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber renders the line "Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh" as "Beyond the Gulf of Persia". She actually stops singing right there to say she has no idea how that happened.
    • In Google Translate RUINS T'was The Night Before Christmas, "And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath" becomes "Dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog, dog".
  • CDZA did something similar with the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - the key difference is that they start with a translation to one language (Mandarin Chinese) and back, then gradually add more recursive translations until it's been run through every language available on the site. Naturally, the results get more and more bizarre and unintelligible as the video goes on. For instance, when recursively translated to and from Mandarin Chinese, "You're moving with your aunt and uncle in Bel Air" becomes "you, your aunt, and uncle in Bel Air"; Once it's run through 64 languages, it inexplicably becomes "I HAVE NOTHING!"

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • A computer in a lab was running a beta of some translation software package and translated "Out of sight, out of mind", a famous expression meaning "If you hide something, sometimes people forget that it existed in the first place." into Chinese and back to English, and the printout read "Invisible idiot".
  • In another variant, the phrase "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" got translated as "The vodka is good but the meat is rotten" (a former Trope Namer for Either "World Domination", or Something About Bananas).
  • A number of words have travelled back and forth across the English Channel in this way.
    • For example, "le boeuf" (French) became "beef" (English), after which "beefsteak" (English) became "le biftek" (French again).
    • Similarly, the English phrase "Country dance" became "contredanse" in French, which was then retranslated into English as "Contra dance," which unfortunately has nothing to do with a Konami product.
    • A really odd one: French cotte (a kind of medieval outer tunic)—>English coat, which became used in the phrase riding coat—>French redingote—>English redingote (an 18th-19th century garment).
    • Norse skipa (to provide a ship) became équiper in Norman French, and later to equip in English. The French word was reverse loaned as ekipera in Swedish in the 18th century.
    • The Portuguese word "Fetiche", like English "Fetish", comes from French "Fétiche", which comes from Portuguese "Feitiço", meaning "spell/charm".